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The countdown was on. My wife, Lisa, and I had been looking forward to this little getaway for a few months. The date had been circled on our calendars, and we weren’t going to let anything get in the way of our having a wonderful time. We were going to the Broadmoor, ranked by many as America’s #1 resort, which is just 10 miles away from our house. The best kind of “stay-cation” you can imagine.
Our friends were going to watch our kids and pay for us to stay there for one night, so we arrived with great anticipation. We would have uninterrupted conversation and rest, great food and leisurely reading time . . . until our plan was interrupted when I ended up on the floor of our hotel bathroom writhing in pain.
The last few months have been particularly difficult for our little family of five, but not because anyone did anything wrong. It’s been difficult because I’m having trouble getting out of bed in the morning.
A routine day on the golf course three months ago turned bad when I threw my back out. The pain hasn’t relented since. In fact, I’ve been in so much pain that for the first time in my seven years of being a dad, I’ve had to decide if I should hold my children in my arms, knowing that if I do, I’m going to pay for it later. My wife has had to shoulder a heavier load, which includes helping me get dressed and putting on my socks and shoes in the morning. Though my wife has happily cared for me, it’s hard for me to not feel like a burden when she has to work harder to get me ready than she does to get our second-grader and kindergartener out the door.
And then there’s this: physical pain has a way of infringing on one’s personality. I’ve spent my entire life being the irrepressibly joyful guy, the guy who makes people think, “Surely he can’t be that happy.” The joy is sincere, yet now, because of the pain, the tiniest things set me on edge.
Something has to give.
With all of this physical-mental-emotional mess swirling, I’m looking for every bit of hope I can find. And, strangely, I think I’m finding it on the horizon of the church calendar.
Yes, Advent is on its way.
For those new to the observance of this Christian season, “advent” was taken from the Latin word adventus, which was borrowed from the Greek word parousia, which simply means “presence,” “coming,” or “arrival.” It’s the time for marking the arrival of the divine presence — Jesus, the messiah, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, bursting on the scene to address the out-of-joint and misaligned world in which we all find ourselves.
But Advent is so much more than a seasonal holiday. Advent is situated at the intersection of all human longing, a season on a swivel — looking back to what happened, and yearning forward to what will be. Advent entreats us to simultaneously remember Jesus’ first fleshly appearance in Bethlehem, while pointing to that day when he reappears to deliver the child conceived when heaven and earth were betrothed at his first advent. The child’s name shall be called New Creation.
And even though Advent is still a couple weeks away, it can’t get here fast enough for me. Pain has a way of making you desire things not yet in your grasp. Root longings are uncovered, elemental desires for shalom more pronounced. We need God’s great wholeness and restorative peace to be realized in the world.
You see, I’m ready for Advent because Advent is the time of year when the church commands us to long, to yearn, and to groan those guttural “groans that words cannot express,” as St. Paul put it. It’s the most wonderful time of the year — the time we burst into songs of longing without demur.
Oh, come, oh, come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Oh, come O Rod of Jesse’s stem,
From ev’ry foe deliver them
That trust your mighty pow’r to save;
Bring them in vict’ry through the grave.
Advent ought to be the favorite season of all the weak and infirmed, all the disinherited and disenfranchised, all those proficient in a weakness on par with the Son of God.
Like Aaron, the young man who comes to vacuum our church every Tuesday. He’s 30 years old, has August 29 for a birthday, takes his job seriously, loves the Lord, and is infectious with love. He prays for people and gives encouraging words everywhere he goes. He was also born with Down syndrome. When I bumped into Aaron today at the church, I immediately recognized him as one of the more hidden characters in the Advent story — the old man, Simeon. Here’s how he’s described in Luke 2:25:
“Now there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon who was righteous and devout, longing for the restoration of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.”
Like Simeon, my friend Aaron spends his time in the house of God. And by the way he talks and prays, it’s obvious that something at his subterranean core longs for all to be made right. His life beckons, “O come, O come, Emmanuel. . . .”
Yes, Advent is for all those at a deficit, for all who groan and long, for all who cry themselves to sleep and crawl around in agonizing pain. Whether it’s Simeon and Aaron longing for restoration or me suffering through back pain, Advent is for all those who need “death’s dark shadow put to flight.”